Back Pain: What’s It All About?

Feeling pain in your back? It may not be what you think… in fact it may be mostly in your mind.

A study into the causes of back pain has found that depression and anxiety play a greater role in this poorly understood condition than we thought.

In fact, people with mental health issues are more likely to experience back pain, according to researchers from Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) and Monash University.

That makes it important to pay attention to your overall wellbeing.


“We found mental wellbeing was worse for people with back pain than those without pain but, more significantly, the impact of mental wellbeing was greater than spinal tissue damage or nervous system changes on those experiencing pain,” IPAN PhD candidate Scott Tagliaferri explained. “This is not to say that pain is “all in someone’s head” – pain is always real – but we now have evidence of the important role that emotions and beliefs play in back pain.”


Mr Tagliaferri said the findings are a potential game-changer in the clinical care of back pain as they provide the first clear evidence that mental wellbeing is a significant factor in the cause and health impacts of back pain.


“The research is telling us that more attention needs to be paid to the mental well-being of people with back pain and referral to specialist mental health services may be an important avenue of treatment,” Mr Tagliaferri said, adding “ The main finding was that psychological factors were more prominent in people with back pain than, for example, spine or nerve damage.

“People should understand that back pain is not just the result of damage to their spine. For example, more than 50% of 50-year-olds, who do not have back pain, have degenerative spinal changes.

“Even though those with these changes are more likely to have pain, other factors, such as their psychosocial health and changes within the nervous system may also be important and need to be considered as part of treatment.”

“This may help explain why some people take much longer to recover, or never fully recover, following treatment for back pain because these other factors are not being addressed.”


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